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Title: "This deathless field" :the role of on-site interpretation in negotiating heritage values of historic battlefields
Authors: Sikora, Justin Peter
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The focus of this research deals with on-site interpretation at historic battlefields and how it contributes to the heritage values of these sites. This research comes at a time of increased debate about what values historic battlefields possess in the United Kingdom, predominantly as they are expressed through non-statutory legislation in England and Scotland. However, apart from cursory mention of their cultural value in these documents, the potential for archaeological discoveries and the military importance of these sites have been the exclusive factors given to justify their significance. This research has sought to verify if this is the case with visitors to historic battlefields, and if not, which elements they value. In contrast to more recent conflicts, historic battlefields rarely leave any physical traces in the landscape, or ‘heritagescape’. Whilst there are occasionally markers from after the event, such as memorials or plaques, the importance of their placement and meaning is not always sufficiently presented to modern visitors. Without other forms of on-site interpretation – such as interpretative panels, live interpretation or visitor centres – it is difficult, or impossible, to locate where a battle occurred, and communicate what is known about the event. Interpreting battlefields through these media allows visitors the opportunity to connect with and understand the actions which transpired within a bounded area. As this research has found, the methods in which information about battlefields have been presented, and the narrative of interpreting events, are crucial in how visitors perceive these sites; providing the performative space for negotiating heritage values. These are key themes for this thesis, and form the basis of the research aims and objectives. The data which was collected and analysed came from three battlefield case studies in the United Kingdom with distinctive, but comparable circumstances: Culloden, Bosworth and Flodden. At the heart of these sites were the issues of how interpretation narrates the known historical facts of the battles, and at Bosworth, how this is done at a distance from the actual site. In order to ascertain how visitors interact and react to the interpretation, semi-structured interviews and participant observations were employed to engage with visitors and staff in determining how interpretation influences understanding of those spaces as ‘heritagescapes’. The key theoretical basis of the data analysis was through semiotics and communication theories. These theories were essential in establishing how recognised ‘signs’, conveyed through on-site interpretation, create meaning which visitors are capable of decoding. iii Through these investigations it is concluded that the heritage values of historic battlefields are more nuanced and less tangible than has been identified previously by academics in archaeology, history and tourism, as well as by regional and national authorities. In contrast to present paradigms, it is contended in this thesis that the value of historic battlefields for visitors, and why some have been interpreted, has little to do with the event itself or remaining tangible artefacts, nor the minutiae of exact historic reality. Instead the most significant factors were what occurred in the aftermath of the event, and the political ramifications resulting from it, and their perceived importance to the individual visitor today; regardless of their historical veracity. Despite numerous previous studies into battlefield archaeology, history and tourism, what constitutes ‘battlefield heritage’ has been explicitly under-researched. The objective of this thesis has been to rectify that gap and provide a basis for further research. This intention has not only included what heritage values visitors place on these fields today, but also why certain sites have been interpreted over others. These investigations provide a unique contribution to heritage and interpretation studies on historic battlefields and analogous ‘heritagescapes’.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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